Frances O’Connor Kranz McAlpin says she isn’t sure about the secret to reaching her 106th birthday in March.
Perhaps it’s her active mind — on her birthday, she read poetry by Robert Frost and paged through photo albums. Perhaps it’s the Manhattan she long enjoyed before dinner, or her practice at shorthand, or the exercise classes at Mount Olivet Home. But if you ask her daughter Mary Schmit, she would tell you it’s her resilience.
“So many people think they will plan their life perfectly,” said Schmit, who lives in Lynnhurst. “Nobody plans to get sick. You have to have some flexibility.”
In the late 1940s, McAlpin’s husband A.T. “Butch” Kranz suffered a stroke at age 41. A second stroke confined him to a wheelchair for 16 years. The family aborted plans to build a house on a bluff in Hastings, Minn., and McAlpin took a secretarial position at Hastings High School to support the family.
To help fill Kranz’s long hours in the wheelchair, the couple borrowed $500 to open a gift shop in the sunroom of their house. The shop Gretchen’s Gifts became a popular destination for 20 years.
McAlpin worked full-time, took care of her husband, and worked weekends at the gift shop. She took Kranz on vacations, long before handicap accommodations were commonplace.
“I think that was her secret,” Schmit said. “…My sister and I never heard any one of them say, ‘Why me?’”
Kranz died in 1968. McAlpin later remarried Homer McAlpin, and continued operating the gift shop until 1975.
Among all the innovations she’s seen in her lifetime, McAlpin has remarked about the thrill of receiving her first IBM electric typewriter while working at the high school, and she remembers trying out her first vacuum cleaner.
Schmit said her mother is a wonderful mentor for the family. They made funeral arrangements at age 90, thinking it was time to plan for the future. But McAlpin outlived her doctor, the funeral director and the priest.
At age 85 McAlpin drove alone to Arizona to visit family — “much to our chagrin,” Schmit said. But she had a cell phone, a decent car and a familiar route, and the trip went fine.
To celebrate her 90th birthday, she traveled to Ireland with her daughter.
McAlpin loves the North Shore, particularly cabins with a fireplace near the water. She visited the Split Rock Lighthouse on her 100th birthday, an occasion that also happened to mark the lighthouse’s 100th birthday.
Until age 102, McAlpin lived at a condo in Bloomington.
She continues to read poetry, memorizing the lines and reading them again and again.
A 1956 Pioneer Press article said “fate switched the blueprints” when McAlpin and Kranz set out to build their dream house in Hastings. The couple is quoted as saying they wouldn’t have it any other way.